'This has given us a chance' - Public health expert commends Government on coronavirus lockdown

A blanket approach to suppressing the coronavirus outbreak in New Zealand is needed to prevent thousands of deaths like what has been seen overseas, according to a public health academic.

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Otago University's Michael Baker talked about why he's so pleased with the drastic move. Source: Breakfast

Professor Michael Baker from the University of Otago advises the Government on health matters. This morning he told TVNZ1's Breakfast that the Government's move to lockdown New Zealand forat least four-weeks was unprecedented but necessary.

"Basically people thought you couldn't do this," Prof Baker said.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the nation's Covid-19 coronavirus alert level to level three, before alert level four comes into effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday.  

Level four is put in place with a risk of sustained level of virus transmission. Contact between people is largely eliminated, the public urged to stay at home. Essential services, including supermarkets, health care, service stations and media, will remain in place.

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Jacinda Ardern announced level four of the Covid-19 plan will be implemented in 48 hours. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Baker told 1 NEWS he was "overjoyed" at the announcement.

"This is the policy we've been recommending to the Government," he said today. 

"This has given us a chance and the great benefit of this is it snubs out every chain of transmission - the virus has nowhere to go - and then we'll bring in all the other supportive things which is testing people's symptoms, and isolating the cases and following up contacts, but that's only possible when you've actually got this sort of blanket measure to sort of surpress the virus for a period.

"The way things were going we could only see one path and that's this exponential rise, the virus gradually spreads, it's very infectious and will infect most New Zealanders and there would be tens of thousands of people dying from this.

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The Prime Minister talked to TVNZ1's Breakfast after yesterday raising New Zealand's alert level to three, then four. Source: Breakfast

"So what New Zealand has done is absolutely remarkable in the world in that we've altered that direction. I mean, it's very hard to advise a Government to say 'shut down the whole country', I mean, that's not normally in the repertoire of things you can even do as a country or advice you ever give," he said.

"But actually it was absolutely the right advice and that's what New Zealand is doing and I think it was so brilliantly delivered by the Government, I mean, they've shown incredible leadership on this."

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Professor Michael Baker is an epidemiologist with the University of Otago. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Baker explained that previous pandemic planning had been around influenza - flattening the curve and slowing it down. But with Covid-19, he said it has been learned from China that the virus can be stopped in full flight.

"It wasn't easy, but New Zealand is now going 'we're following the Chinese model of eradication' and that's completely different and it took us awhile to work out that policy approach and then it took us awhile to sell that to the Government because its so different from all of the thinking in the past."

However, he said policy alone won't make the virus go away and that New Zealanders needed to change their behaviour to make it work.

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New Zealand has entered Covid-19 alert level three and within 48 hours it will be raised again to level four. Source: 1 NEWS

Prof Baker said New Zealand was fortunate that we got to look at the devastation overseas and find an alternate direction.

"There is just not the ventilator capacity in New Zealand so unfortunately you'll wind up like Northern Italy where most people will not get a ventilator and they will die if they get to intensive care, so that's the real trick point in the system and I think everyone is recognising that."

However, he said Australia was not doing the measures New Zealand was, and instead it was "making the mistake of following the virus".

"They're not getting ahead of the curve and New Zealand is now doing this. We're just starting on this exponential phase, I think people recognise that, and now we will take an absolutely decisive step to stop this."

The lockdown period has been set for four weeks because it will take weeks for results to show given the lag between infection and people feeling ill.

"It will take at least two weeks before we see that curve start to flatten," Mr Baker said.

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Jacinda Ardern said there would be an unprecedented level of economic and social disruption as a result of the lockdown. Source: 1 NEWS